Challenges and opportunities

Tata Motors' CTO on meeting upcoming legislation and consumer demands

Tough new Bharat Stage VI regulations that cut vehicle tailpipe emissions will be introduced across India in April 2020. While automakers have had time to prepare, Chief Technology Officer of Tata Motors Limited (TML), Mr Rajendra Petkar, talks to Insight about the changes that are required and the future challenges and opportunities that he sees ahead in the fast changing automotive world.

Tata Motors Group, is a 45 billion US dollar organisation (TML standalone 9.8 billion USD) and is among the world’s leading manufacturers of automobiles, with a portfolio that includes a wide range of passenger, commercial and defence  vehicles. With more than 8.5 million Tata branded vehicles globally, this Indian auto giant now has a presence, on and off-road, in over 175 countries. Mr. Petkar joined the organisation (TML) in 1989 as Post Graduate Trainee Engineer and over his career has held key positions and gained extensive experience in engines, transmissions and advanced powertrain concepts. Appointed as CTO, (Head – Engineering Research Centre) in April 2018, he now leads the Product Development & Engineering function that designs and develops a vast range of vehicles and components for the company’s product portfolio.

Change ahead with Bharat Stage VI

Bharat Stage VI (BS VI) emissions regulations come into force across India on April 1 2020. For both commercial and passenger vehicles, BS VI implements much tighter limits for hydrocarbons, NOx and PM and also introduces new particulate number limits. The huge changes have been a considerable industry talking point. However, as Mr Petkar explains, a large part of the preparation is behind them and most of the challenges have already been met. “Industry knew about BS VI somewhere around September 2016 and, when we started to work on meeting the requirements, a number of challenges arose. We looked at the rationalisation of both the powertrain and of the entire vehicle portfolio and we had to make the right choices in our technology. It was also important to look at the cost structure so that what we produce will not only be affordable but also deliver value to the customer.”

While the preparation in terms of the technology platform has been resolved, Mr Petkar sees significant challenges that still remain in the transition to BS VI.

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There are now the new challenges in terms of, how do we do the ramp down of the BS IV, and the ramp up for the BS VI products? Then how do we look at the plan to make sure that at a given point of time, because it's all a digital transition which is going to happen overnight from 31st of March 2020, to 1st of April 2020. So, therefore, how do we ensure that there are vehicles which are available at every dealership? Then to ensure that there are the spare parts, which are available, how do we ensure that the manpower, the network, which is the dealers in the workshops, is fully trained to handle if anything that happens as far as the BS VI vehicles are concerned. So, these are the new set of the challenges which currently that we are working on, the simultaneous implementation across all of our manufacturing plants, and we have seven manufacturing plants. So, how do we do that kind of a transition with the entire supply chain and the obsolescence as far as the current BS IV parts are concerned is something that we are currently working on beside getting ready as far as the field situation is concerned.

Mr Petkar is keen to challenge the common misconception that this new BS VI regulation is just about making changes to the vehicle aftertreatment system. “In our view, when moving from one emission norm to another, there is the potential to see a deterioration in fuel economy and vehicle performance. This is why we decided not to focus all our efforts on the aftertreatment system but to adopt a strategy that also looked at the base engine and engine technologies. At the same time, we have been assessing whether for BS VI we will still need all the engines currently being manufactured. Here we have decided to shed some of the older engines and focus on new generation engines, which have good performance and durability and deliver better fuel efficiency. This allows us to ensure we deliver that extra performance in the vehicles supplied to our customers.”

But, having said that, it is clear that there will be a significant number of changes to the aftertreatment systems used in Tata’s light-duty and commercial vehicle segments.

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So looking at the temperature profile, looking at the duty cycle, looking at the durability expectations in that particular segment, we decided to make and optimise the package as far as the aftertreatment is concerned, which is unique to a particular given category of the vehicles, and of course with a large degree of economisation across various engines, various vehicles, and the modularity even within the aftertreatment technologies. So broadly to say as far as the particulates are concerned, we are focusing on use of the diesel particulate filters; as far as the NOx is concerned, we are looking at whether it can be done only with the SCR or combination of the SCR plus EGR. So that's the basic approach, and also if the temperature profile permits us, then we also are going to use LNT, which is a Lean NOx Trap technology. So all these are the new technologies, which will be brought in part of the BS VI for the aftertreatment, besides the conventional oxidation catalyst, which will be there on the diesel in any case.

Hand in hand with reducing vehicle emissions, fuel quality has also undergone a transformation in India. On the diesel side for example, if we look back 15 years, the Infineum winter diesel fuel quality survey reported an average sulphur level of >1000 ppm. However, in the most recent 2018 survey all of the diesel fuels sampled contained less than the 50 ppm national standard. This is an impressive improvement, however, in other aspects Mr Petkar says there are still concerns about the variation in quality of available fuels in India.

“The fuel supply companies have made a conscious effort to improve their fuels. For example, there are markers in kerosene that enable it to be easily distinguished from regular fuel. But, there is still some doubt and, especially in the light of BS VI, we have become more active in requesting the government of India to consider a fuel quality audit mechanism at retail outlets. This is needed because any deviation in the fuel quality parameters can kill the aftertreatment, kill the emissions, it can trigger the on-board diagnostic faults and therefore it can actually create very a chaotic condition. The measures taken to date are not sufficient, we need to move way beyond that – what we are asking for is something similar to the audit mechanism that exists in the Western world.”

Fuel economy legislation set to tighten

The next challenge on the not so distant horizon is tougher fuel economy legislation. More challenging limits will be introduced in India for both commercial vehicles with gross vehicle weight of 12 tonnes or greater from 2020 and for passenger car vehicles in 2022. While some of the engineering work undertaken for BS VI already addresses the demands for improved performance and fuel economy, we were keen to understand what Tata Motors expects from the engine oil. “We have seen expectations coming from the consumers in terms of better fuel economy and longer drain interval,” confirms Mr Petkar. “At the same time, we are introducing emission technologies that are less tolerant to some of the ingredients in the lubricant. The global lubricants industry has been responding very well to these conflicting needs and is coming up with formulations that meet the expectations of both the consumer and the OEM. In addition, the agencies, such as API or ACEA, are also very quick to respond.”

However, when it comes to ultra-low SAE 0W-x viscosities for better fuel economy, Mr Petkar has mixed views depending on the application.

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In India as far as the commercial vehicles are concerned, when it comes to the BS VI, because of a lot of technologies which are there, plus there is a possibility of a late injection which can cause the fuel dilution, and therefore we would like to be a little cautious as far as the commercial vehicles are concerned, we may not, in one go, go to a very ultra low viscometrics. But, the passenger cars there is a good possibility to go towards the low viscosity oil and that's where we are talking about migration from, say SAE 10W-30, and going to SAE 0W-20 and so that's the path that we have chosen as far as the passenger vehicles are concerned.

Another approach to meeting the fleet-wide fuel economy legislation that is being adopted to various degrees across the globe is powertrain electrification. But, just where is India headed and will alternative powertrain technologies or fuels play a significant role in the future?

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Our view is that there is a trend towards electrification. There is a push from the government of India and there is a need to go for the zero emission vehicles for the simple reason that India has the two unique challenges. One is related to the ambient air quality and 14 out of the globally top 20 cities, they reside in India with the very high level of pollution and therefore, there is, I would say, a great degree of urgency to do something to improve the ambient air quality. The second driver for that also is because India depends a lot on getting the imported crude. And therefore the combination of both there is a need to improve on all the situations in terms of the availability and broad basing of the fuel technologies and at the same time improving the emission profile.

And while this you can keep doing it through the organic means by regular tightening of emission norms, or by tightening of the fuel quality, but it's not going to be enough, it's all going to be the incremental and it's not going to solve the problem in the foreseeable future. And therefore rightly so when you're thinking of having the push toward electrification and so there are various incentive schemes you want from the government of India side to promote the use of electric vehicles. But in our view, both the hybrid vehicles and the electric battery operated vehicles, both would be there.

There is not going to be a single winner, and we at Tata Motors, we are into the passenger cars, we are into the commercial vehicles, and we are holding a view that we should be not dictating the technology. We should be actually looking at the emissions. We should be looking at the net outcome rather than technology to be dictated, and therefore we are working on all categories of technological options even on the IC engines, we are working on petrol engines, diesel engines, CNG engines. We are looking at the blends of various fuels, and also we are looking at the full battery electric vehicles. We are also looking at the hybrid vehicles. So it's all that we are actually looking at and working on these technologies.

Looking out further in the future, Tata Motors is already looking at the next big challenges for vehicle manufacturers, which will continue to be driven by emissions reduction, fuel economy, customer demands and shifts in technology. “From an OEM perspective there are four global mega trends, that our industry calls ‘ACES’, which stands for Autonomous vehicles, Connected vehicle technology, Electric powertrains and Shared mobility. And these are the things that are actually creating a future roadmap as far as the organisation is concerned. I won't call them the challenges, but I see them more as opportunities. We have strategic plans to work in each of these areas. And, in the coming years, you will definitely see products from Tata Motors with a reflection of ACES in them.”

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